Aaron Sorkin’s 'The Newsroom' Debuts on HBO Canada June 24, Some Thoughts
By Anne Brodie Jun 19, 2012, 15:29 GMT
Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston and Emily Mortimer star in the dramatic ensemble series 'The Newsroom', set in a major network evening broadcast studio.
Network news has always fought hard in the exceptionally cutthroat world of television ratings while attempting to maintain, where possible, the guiding principles of what news should be. Or that’s the plan.
Producers, anchors, directors, executives and the “little people” of the newsroom tend to throw their hearts and souls into the job of delivering the top stories, and always under a tortuous daily deadline.
It is an extremely difficult job and they must become equal to and have the personality for it. The Newsroom gets all of this right.
I worked for nearly twenty years on what at the time was Canada’s leading newscast with top ratings, top talents behind the scenes, in the field and on camera. But it was hell on wheels on a daily basis even as it was invigorating and exhilarating.
Deadlines were immoveable, no matter the unwilling newsmakers, lazy or unclear staff, and reporters cracking under the daily strain that included the pressure of traffic and space and time.
Irate viewers, investors, executives and advertisers poured on more stress and strain. Ratings were always a source of pride; we were Number One for decades. We were never beaten. We doubled our nearest competitors.
It came at a hard price. I witnessed newsroom fistfights, kicked in walls, kicked and crumpled tin garbage cans, nooses hanging from the ceiling, people I knew and cared about driven to the edge, veiled death threats and paranoia. It was no vacation.
There was fun, trenches camaraderie and gallows humour and there were frequent triumphs, but what I remember most of the speed of it. You can only take that speed for so long.
My boss and mentor, a man of thick skin, common sense and phenomenal news judgement and ethics, told me he couldn’t wait to leave the “meat grinder”.
That was when the show’s ratings were starting to decline with growing competition, more subscription news services, and the advent of online – which incidentally was brushed off as not mattering much. The meat grinder’s less important now, ratings have halved and it eats itself by reporting Twitter and Facebook posts.
So I watched Aaron Sorkin’s star studded series with great interest. It certainly has the adrenaline and speed of a real newsroom. You can feel the excitement when a big story begins to take shape.
A newsroom visitor and potential employee stumbles upon news of the BP oil spill off Louisiana. A short-fused producer tells him to get lost, but he doesn’t. He pushes and pushes, uses his unlikely connections and gets the story, scooping everyone in record time. This is what happens. Things get done in big style.
What doesn’t really happen in the newsroom - because they are mostly professionals - is that a soured romance between the anchor and his producer sets the tone and stage and working conditions and staffing of the newsroom.
It wouldn’t be tolerated by the bosses because newsroom affairs have a detrimental effect on daily operations. I saw these romances and the removal of staff to other parts of the building.
Such romances which were officially against company policy distracted others from their work as well. 'The Newsroom' however, uses a high profile office romance to build itself.
In reality, there is no time or inclination for the eloquent, earnest and perfectly arced speech giving that drags 'The Newsroom' down. Embattled producers and anchors settle in like Greek philosophers, high on power and ego, sorting out the world’s problems as the little people outside do the work.
True to an extent, but Sorkin’s over-the-top earnestness and beautifully drawn conclusions are pure fantasy.
Newsrooms are about time and there is not a lot of time for reflection and purty speeches.
Jeff Daniels is Will, the lead anchor. He sits on a panel at an American university where he blasts the USA, declaring “We are not the greatest country in the world” and the “sorority girl” who said it was.
He backs it up with a terrific off-the-cuff speech that he can’t remember afterwards, you know, “divine inspiration”, and inadvertently sets major events into play.
Not in the real world.
Most anchors wouldn’t have the time or inclination, let alone Will’s verbal powers and a university panel would be well outside their comfort zone.
The newsroom is the anchor’s power place. More important, they would never upset the status quo with firebrand remarks like Wills for fears of audience and executive blowback. They’d rather spend time in their country homes.
One of the weakest examples of The Newsroom’s “reality” is the storyline of the producer who gets in the way of the news. An important, perhaps crucial story’s broken and he refuses to consider it, and instructs his staff to ignore it because he’s jealous of a potential work rival who found it. The newsroom is smarter than he is and keeps at it and delivers a killer scoop. That producer wouldn’t be in that newsroom for long in the real world.
One thing they did get right was the greybeard who oversees the newsroom from a well-earned roost on high. Sam Waterston is Charlie whose affable wisdom and ability to keep a secret has served him well. It allows him to see the picture. My “greybeard” was an interesting, educated and wise man whose clarity I haven’t seen much since those days.
These people are the culminations of lives in news. They deserve respect. Charlie doesn’t get much.
The show is exciting and fun and has terrific stars in place but it’s naively earnest and pat. It has to fit into its time slot, after all and it’s elevated for dramatic effect. But I love the fact that Aaron Sorkin is trying.